BBG Watch Commentary
Consequences of allowing the worst management team in the federal government to continue to run the Voice of America (VOA) can be seen every day in late posting of important news stories and dismal audience engagement through social media.
These are some of the most visible and most troubling symptoms of mismanagement and record low employee morale within VOA and the agency’s management arm, the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB). Employee moral and management leadership skills are measured by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) in the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS). The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), of which IBB and VOA are the two largest federal components, have been near the very bottom of every FEVS survey in recent years.
Rather than replacing discredited managers who can’t get the news posted on time and specialize instead in attacking and intimidating employees and outside critics, the agency’s executive staff is protecting its own ranks within IBB and those in charge of VOA. BBG members have tried to reform the bureaucracy but have encountered strong resistance and so far have not been successful.
The latest example of the nearly complete breakdown of prompt news coverage came today (Monday) when the Voice of America English website was again late in reporting on news stories originating within a few miles of its headquarters in Washington, DC. BBC was faster than VOA in reporting on Secretary of State John Kerry’s statement on the use of chemical weapons in Syria, as well as on the story of U.S. Army sergeant receiving the Medal of Honor from President Obama. These were not news stories that required special fact checking that might account for a delayed posting. The Voice of America was simply late and got beaten by BBC, Russia Today and Al Jazeera not only in prompt reporting but also in audience engagement through social media.
BBC had Kerry’s statement in RED in its breaking news bar at the top by 3:08 PM EDT.
VOA had nothing visible in its breaking news bar which is so small at the top that one can hardly read it.
The Voice of America English news report, US: Must be Accountability for Syria Chemical Weapons Attack, had only 42 Facebook “Likes” and 16 Tweets as of late Monday night.
The BBC English news report, Syria chemical attack undeniable, says John Kerry, had 3,512 Facebook “Likes” and 1,148 Tweets as of late Monday night.
The Russia Today English news report, US accuses Syrian government of using chemical weapons and destroying evidence, had 2,100 Facebook “Likes and 348 Tweets as of late Monday night.
The Al Jazeera English news report, Kerry: Syria gas attack a moral obscenity, had 1,123 Facebook “Likes” and 133 Tweets as of late Monday night.
On the Medal of Honor story, in addition to having an old headline, US Army Sergeant to Receive Medal of Honor Monday, compared to the BBC, the VOA story used an old photo — from April 2013, while the BBC has the actual photo from today’s ceremony.
In fact, the outdated Medal of Honor story was not even an original VOA report but a short news item from Reuters. The Voice of America management resorts more and more to using Reuters reports for major news stories rather than providing original news reporting by VOA correspondents. Needless to say, international audiences are turning away from VOA as seen by social media engagement numbers.
The VOA Medal of Honor story, which was eventually updated, had only 8 (eight) Facebook Likes and 18 Tweets as of late Monday evening.
The BBC Medal of Honor story had 1,478 Facebook “Likes” and 542 Tweets as of late Monday evening.
How Did VOA Do in Social Media Engagement on Kerry Compared to BBC, Russia Today, and Al Jazeera?
The VOA English news story on Secretary Kerry’s statement on the use of chemical weapons in Syria was not only late being posted on the VOA website, it also had far fewer details when compared to reporting by BBC, Russia Today and Al Jazeera.
VOA languages services did equally poorly in audience engagement through social media on this story, even in countries such as Russia where Facebook and Twitter use is very high. VOA language services rely on VOA Central English News for reporting on such general news stories. They were all late in reporting on Secretary Kerry’s statement and used the VOA English report. As of late Monday night, the VOA Russian Service report translated from English, Госсекретарь США: правительство Сирии пытается уничтожить доказательства причастности к химической атаке, received only 3 (three) Facebook “Likes”, 3 (three) Tweets and 0 (zero) Likes on the VK social media site which is popular in Russia.
Voice of America Director David Ensor was bragging recently about the launch of new VOA mobile and tablet apps that work on iPhones, iPads, and Android devices, VOA Rolls Out Mobile App with News in 43 Languages.
“Everything is available in one place now,” says VOA Director David Ensor. “This is a big step forward, and these apps open up the Internet to a new generation of mobile users.”
The problem is that the Voice of America under David Ensor’s leadership is no longer capable of delivering prompt and interesting news to international audiences, neither in English nor in most cases in other languages as well.
One could only ask why it took VOA so long to come up with these apps that do not even offer foreign language options right from the start (English is the default language) and require users who may not read English to set their own languages?
Was VOA and IBB management eyeing the domestic U.S. market in anticipation of the lifting of the Smith-Mundt restrictions while continuing to neglect news reporting for foreign audiences?
But whether the VOA news comes in English or in any other language, it will not attract readers and social media users in the United States or abroad if the news is late, short and boring.